Throughout much of spring training last year, it appeared Craig Stammen was likely ticketed for the starting rotation at Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals looked like they had a full bullpen at the major league level and Stammen was still viewed as a guy who could provide organizational depth as a starter.
But thanks to a strong spring, Stammen ended up cracking the Nationals’ opening day roster as a reliever, and almost immediately became a key contributor out of the ‘pen.
Just a week into the season, the Versailles, Ohio, native picked up wins on back-to-back days against his hometown team, the Reds. He worked an inning in both of those games, striking out the side each time. Two days later, he worked two innings against the Reds, striking out three more batters in the process.
Nine strikeouts in a four-inning span, this from a guy who had never struck out more than eight in any of his major league starts.
Stammen filled a number of roles for Davey Johnson this season, moving around as injuries plagued other members of the Nationals’ bullpen.
Not only was Stammen the Nats’ right-handed long-reliever, he also sometimes worked late in games, throwing in the seventh and eighth innings to help preserve leads or keep the game close. He could be called upon to work two or three innings at a time or merely get three big outs to serve as the bridge to whoever was closing at the time.
Heck, he even was the closer in one game, picking up his first career major league save on Sept. 29 in a big late-season, extra-inning win over the Cardinals.
Stammen finished the season with a very impressive 2.34 ERA, far below his previous career ERA of 4.94.
While the right-hander would probably prefer to still have a shot to start, he’s really settled into a reliever’s role nicely.
In his career as a starter, Stammen has a 5.08 ERA, a 1.372 WHIP and 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings. As a reliever, Stammen’s ERA is just 2.81, with a WHIP of 1.249 and a 9.2 strikeout per nine innings ratio.
Johnson often referred to Stammen as a “horse” this season, a guy who could take the ball as often as the team needed and work as long as Johnson left him out there.
Stammen didn’t enter 2012 appearing likely to be a major part of the Nationals’ major league roster, but that won’t be the case in 2013. Given the strides he made this year, Stammen will have a key bullpen spot with his name on it going into spring training.